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Help Me, LAPTOP: I Need A Notebook For Music Production and Web Development

With summer finally winding down, many students are getting ready to head to school for the fall. Reader David L won't be going to college until net year, but he's already on the hunt for a good notebook.

David writes:

I'm going to be going to college in Fall 2011, pursuing a career in music. I need a laptop with sufficient storage to hold my music collection (200GB and growing), but also with the platform support for higher-end music production/creation apps, whether the better be Windows 7 or OS X.

Also, I need to do some part-time web-development (using Visual Studio) on the side, so I need the power for that. In addition, I also travel a great deal, so I need something relatively compact (less that 14.1" screen) lightweight (lightweight and compact A/C adapter is a factor to consider as well), and a very good WiFi card for the many less than stellar connections throughout the world. Ideally, my dream laptop would be sub-$1500, with $2000 being the absolute max, but future-proof enough to last through 4-5 years of college. Is this possible?

We'll start by pointing you towards the HP Envy 14 ($999). In terms of specs, it'll definitely have enough storage and horsepower for everything that you'll be doing. Our Envy 14 review unit sported, among other things, a Core i5-450M 2.4-GHz CPU, 4GB DDR3 RAM and a 500GB 7200RPM hard drive. It also has a really good audio fidelity, making it good for music production.

These specs aren't concrete, since HP--like most manufacturers--offers customized notebook builds. However, while the Envy 14 starts at $999, getting a model like ours would only cost you $1,289 (HP also offers a Core i7-based iteration of the Envy 14, if you want the extra processing power). At 14.5-inches, the Envy 14 is also slightly bigger than your size ceiling, but it only clocks in at 5.4 pounds.

The 13.3-inch MacBook Pro (starts at $1,199) falls into a similar category--like the Envy 14, you'll have similar flexibility on storage and processing power. Storage options max out at a 500GB 7200RPM hard drive (for an extra $150) and even though the MacBook Pro is Core 2 Duo-based, you'll still have decent performance for your specific applications.

Depending on the specific programs you're using for music creation, Snow Leopard is also a definite advantage for the MacBook Pro, since many programs like Garage Band only work on Mac. However, you would definitely need to dual boot with Windows 7, because Visual Studio only runs under Microsoft's OS.

When it comes to portability, the MacBook Pro is clearly the better choice. That system gets 7 hours and 48 minutes of life and only weighs 4.4 pounds.